Enthralled by PJ Harvey

PJ Harvey performed a setlist comprising mostly songs from last year's richly textured album, The Hope Six Demolition Project.
PJ Harvey performed a setlist comprising mostly songs from last year's richly textured album, The Hope Six Demolition Project.PHOTO: HOONG WEI LONG/ESPLANADE

The British singer-songwriter captivates in a live set that is dramatic, intense and completely compelling

REVIEW / CONCERT

PJ HARVEY - MOSAIC MUSIC SERIES 2017

Esplanade Theatre/Last Friday

At one point during British singer- songwriter PJ Harvey's concert at the Esplanade Theatre, someone from the audience shouted to her, "I love you, PJ!", as fans are wont to do when watching their music idols perform live.

Harvey, playing her debut show in Singapore, acknowledged it with only a slight nod, but uttered not a word.

In fact, there was hardly any banter during the 90-minute show, save for a segment when she introduced her nine-piece band.

It was clear, if anyone didn't already know, that Harvey was no pop star out to entertain the fans with easy-going songs and light- hearted fare. An MTV hit song of hers in the 1990s, Down By The Water, was about infanticide.

Yet, however heavy and dark it was, her theatrical live set was completely mesmerising. Perhaps it was due to her voice - it was rich and creamy at most times, seductive when she needed to be and downright terrifying when she was hollering into the microphone.

It was also about her compelling and dramatic stage movements - she would slowly sway her arms and body as she sang or stand still, depending on the mood and tempo of the song.

Then there was the all-encompassing intensity of her band - the black-clad ensemble of multiinstrumentalists included distinguished alt-rock vets such as Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds' Mick Harvey (no relation) and long-time collaborator John Parish.

The relatively large supporting cast was necessary for PJ Harvey to perform a setlist comprising mostly songs from last year's richly textured album, The Hope Six Demolition Project.

The album's songs - containing her reflections on the human condition inspired by her travels to troubled areas in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Washington D.C. - required her collaborators to be equal parts brass band, rock outfit and backing choir.

Every chord and riff played on the array of guitars, every stroke and hit on the percussion and every note on the horn section seemed vital and was played with intent.

Those who came expecting to hear the raw, post-grunge pummel of her early records would have been disappointed.

None of the lacerating tracks from 1992 debut Dry was played, but towards the end, long-time fans did get a treat when Harvey delved into the punk fury of 50ft Queenie from sophomore 1993 release Rid Of Me.

This was quickly followed up by two songs from her best-selling album to date, 1995's To Bring You My Love - the slow-burn intensity of the title track and the seductive rendition of Down By The Water inspired a segment of the audience to leave their seats to dance in the aisles.

And while she played two songs from the Mercury Prize-winning Let England Shake (2011), she left out material from Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea (2000), which also won the same prestigious British prize.

The only artist to have won the Mercury twice, she is not for no reason known as an artist in constant reinvention.

No, she didn't have to play to the crowd, she didn't have to play songs from a key album of hers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2017, with the headline 'Enthralled by PJ Harvey'. Print Edition | Subscribe